Friday, January 18, 2008

Remembering Summer--Backyard Bliss

I am obsessed with living outdoors. Staying inside my house is like being asleep. When I walk outside, I wake up. Or, to use the metaphor I gave my husband--"'outside' is a naked woman and 'inside' is a clothed woman." I'm not sure if that analogy helped him understand, but he enjoyed the imagery. It isn't an exaggeration to say that I'd live outdoors if I could. But husband-Rick would never agree to the tree house in my fantasy.

My compulsion to stay outside is a burden. Not only do I suffer from hungry mosquitoes, but my home, especially during great weather, does not get the cleaning it deserves. Stacks of newspapers, clumps of dog hair, and piles of dishes must wait until dusk, or later. My saintly husband accepts this quirk, one more aspect of my "earthy" nature. Because of our different requirements--my need for fresh air and Rick's craving for air conditioning--we accept that we'll read the Sunday paper in our respective areas, alone.

The biggest burden is employment. Unless you're a forest ranger or a landscaper, earning a living outside is much more complicated. I've been fortunate to have some telecommuting work. In all but the most inclement weather, I will do this work outside. What do my neighbors think of the crazy lady next door--the one who spends morning 'til night on her back deck, surrounded by a tangle of cords, in her pajamas?

I work under a patio umbrella, a concession to the reality of UV and the difficulty of reading my computer monitor in full sun. Corporate correspondence is delightful when accomplished in the grandeur of my back yard. I work and listen to the crickets. I follow the escapades of chipmunks and squirrels. Even the spiders on their glistening webs warm my heart. But the birds thrill me most. Listening to them produces a rush of feelings in me, like those of adolescent love. To be near any wild thing is a wonder, but seeing a bird up-close is especially grand. They are fragile miracles--breath encased in a bit of bone and feather.

I will stop my activities to watch a starling take a long luxurious bath. My heart performs gymnastics when I hear a cardinal's "what-cheer-cheer-cheer." Did you know that Robins sing intricate symphonies and Goldfinches are squeaky? And what can you say about the twittering gossip of a bush filled with sparrows? They don't listen to one another but all chirp simultaneously, producing a cacophony that still pleases. The songs at dawn and dusk are even more poignant. Are my companions singing differently at the start and end of the day? Or am I different?

Scientists have proven that nature is healing, but maybe it takes a poet to describe the blessings hidden in a summer day. Is it the animals and their sounds, the movement of the wind, or simply being under the dome of heaven that moves and restores me?

It isn't practical to avoid the inside world forever. I force myself indoors: to clean a home that's been neglected, or to escape ravenous bugs. But no matter how comfortable we've made our abode, the world outside always feels more vital and real. I'm grateful for every moment I have to commune with wind and sky and birds. I'm especially beholden to the birds, my lovely companions, who sing to me hour after hour.

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